Assessment of liver fibrosis: noninvasive means

Saudi J Gastroenterol. 2008 Oct;14(4):163-73. doi: 10.4103/1319-3767.43273.


Liver biopsy, owing to its limitations and risks, is an imperfect gold standard for assessing the severity of the most frequent chronic liver diseases chronic hepatitis C (HCV), B (HBV) non alcoholic (NAFLD) and alcoholic (ALD) fatty liver diseases. This review summarizes the advantages and the limits of the available biomarkers of liver fibrosis. Among a total of 2,237 references, a total of 14 validated serum biomarkers have been identified between 1991 and 2008. Nine were not patented and five were patented. Two alternatives to liver biopsy were the most evaluated FibroTest and Fibroscan. For FibroTest, there was a total of 38 different populations including 7,985 subjects with both FibroTest and biopsy (4,600 HCV, 1,580 HBV, 267 NAFLD, 524 ALD, and 1014 mixed). For Fibroscan, there was a total of 11 published studies including 2,260 subjects (1,466 HCV, 95 cholestatic liver disease, and 699 mixed). For FibroTest, the mean diagnostic value for the diagnosis of advanced fibrosis assessed using standardized area under the ROC curves was 0.84 (95% confidence interval 0.83-0.86), without a significant difference between the causes of liver disease, hepatitis C, hepatitis B, and alcoholic or non alcoholic fatty liver disease. High-risk profiles of false negative/false positive of FibroTest, mainly Gilbert syndrome, hemolysis and acute inflammation, are present in 3% of the populations. In case of discordance between biopsy and FibroTest, half of the failures can be due to biopsy; the prognostic value of FibroTest is at least similar to that of biopsy in HCV, HBV and ALD. In conclusion this overview of evidence-based data suggests that biomarkers could be used as an alternative to liver biopsy for the first line assessment of fibrosis stage in the four most common chronic liver diseases, namely HCV, HBV, NAFLD and ALD. Neither biomarkers nor biopsy alone is sufficient for taking a definite decision in a given patient; all the clinical and biological data must be taken into account. There is no evidence based data justifying biopsy as a first line estimate of liver fibrosis. Health authorities in some countries have already approved validated biomarkers as the first line procedure for the staging of liver fibrosis.

Keywords: FibroScan; FibroTest; SteatoTest; liver fibrosis.